on Mon, 26 Dec, 2022
Back when the MEDGE (the Middle Eastern Dance Guild of Eugene) was still around, one of their guidelines for performers was that they couldn’t wear a “bra” on stage. If a dancer created a coin bra or bustier as part of their costume, it had to be embellished enough that it no longer would be considered an undergarment. It is a good guideline to go by.
I also recognize that for someone new to belly dancing they might not realize what that actually means—which is why I have some examples made by students and myself below.
Another guideline that I can fully appreciate is that the bra should provide enough coverage for modesty and does not fall off. Years ago one of my teachers told us that the way to ensure there are no embarrassing accidents (and to give us a little more cleavage) is to wear a bra that creates a nice shape under our coin bra. I tell all my students to do this to ensure we don’t accidentally pop out of our coin bras. MEDGE used to ban a dancer for a year if she exposed herself during a family friendly show. As if the humiliation of popping out of a costume wasn’t embarrassing enough!
I was careful not to let this happen to me.
Here are some guidelines and suggestions for making a pretty and professional bra in an ATS or fusion style:
Decorate enough that it no longer could pass for an undergarment
Reinforce with safety pins or sew the straps that fasten behind the neck so the clasps don’t pop open.
Use bra bases that are sturdy and fasten in the back (Don’t make the mistake I made and use a bra that opens in the front. That one pops open easily and has to be safety pinned!)
Wear a matching color bra or choli (half shirt underneath). This is for extra support and coverage. Some dancers like using a flesh color pasty but that is still more revealing than I am comfortable with.
Embellish with silver, tarnished silver, or dull brass (shiny gold will look like cabaret)
For ATS style, use shisha mirrors, cowrie shells, folk style embroidery, and tassels or tassel fringe. (No, I do not mean you should place them in the center like pasties.)
For ATS, add fabric. But look at countries that are represented in the style of dance moves for inspiration: Middle East, Mediterranean, Northern Africa, India, Eastern Europe.
If the intention is to be cabaret, find embellishments that sparkle: glitter, rhinestones, sequins, sparkling beads, and shiny metal. Gold coins? Yes.
Below are four examples of bras that show a full range of styles. See if you can spot the differences between cabaret, ATS, fusion, and an ATS style that might be considered more Eastern European folkloric than Middle Eastern inspired.
ATS (what some people call tribal or American Tribal Style but what I am going to call American Transcultural Style)
Another ATS, American Tribal Style, or American Transcultural Style (I have worn this for fusion as well.)
Fusion (This one could work for a range of styles and I have worn it as part of an ATS costume as well as steampunk belly dance performances.)
Cabaret ( have also worn this for Victorian/steampunk/Eastern European influenced costumes, so it is possible this is a little bit of cabaret fusion or Tribaret)
Cabaret (Sometimes I wear it with the belt above)
Cabaret (This was a bra I purchased that had only a couple rows of sequins and rhinestones that I sewed a lot of embellishments in the negative space.)
Tribaret/ Cabaret fusion
I created this to match a cabaret costume, but the folkloric embroidery that is probably from India gives it a little bit of an ATS look.
Eastern European Folkloric-Inspired
There are also many folkloric styles that I am not representing here. I am just posting examples I have owned and made. For an article that focuses more on examples for fusion and ATS, go to this article: Examples of ATS Belly Dance Coin Bras and Bustiers